Cavalry Memorial’s 50th Anniversary – 2013

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in October 2013 issue.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

On Saturday 7th September 2013 on the 50th Anniversary of the opening of Cavalry Memorial in Plunkett Bks a special commemorative plate was unveiled by Lt Col John McKeown (Retd), son of the late COS Lt Gen Seán McKeown, who originally opened the garden in 1963.

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Lt Gen McKeown opening the Memorial Garden 1963. Photo courtesy of Military Archives

The memorial garden at Plunkett Bks, Curragh Camp, to honour cavalry personnel who lost their lives under the flag of the United Nations, was opened on Sunday 6th October 1963 when the central monument was unveiled by Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán McKeown.
Construction of the garden was carried out after normal duty hours under the direction of Comdt Joe Foley and Capt Tommy Roche and was undertaken by volunteers from the units in the barracks. As worked progressed, Mr George Spiers, a landscape designer of Spiers Nurseries, Burtstown, Athy, was engaged.

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Lt Gen Conor O’Boyle (COS) and Col Anthony Bracken (Dir of Combat Sp & ISTAR) laid wreaths at the memorial.

The cromlech design of the memorial is based on the megalithic monuments at Moytura Conga in County Mayo, where, according to mythology, a great battle took place between the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha Dé Danann three thousand years ago, and the capstone is shaped like a cavalryman’s Glengarry.
The inscription on the gate into the garden reads “In omnem terram exivit sonus eorum”, a motto given to the Irish troops in the Spanish army by Phillip V of Spain in the sixteenth century which means “Their fame has gone throughout the world”.
During his address at the unveiling ceremony, Lt Gen McKeown said:

“The memory of your dead comrades, perpetuated here in this memorial, will be a source of inspiration for future generations of Irish soldiers and future generations of Irishmen in all walks of life. I hope too that it may provide some small consolation for the families and loved ones.”

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Members of the Cavalry Corps, IUNVA and ONE with the DF No 1 Band parade at the memorial garden.

The memorial was funded by voluntary subscriptions from personnel in cavalry regular and reserve units, Cavalry Workshops and Technical Stores and individuals, along with grants from Plunkett Officers’ Mess, the Cavalry Club and the 11th Cavalry Association. The initial cost for materials, lighting, shrubs and plaques amounted to £1,851-8s-6d.

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Members of the Cavalry Corps, IUNVA and ONE with the DF No 1 Band parade at the memorial garden.

On Saturday November 5th 1966 the inaugural Remembrance Day for cavalry personnel killed while serving with the United Nations in the Congo and Cyprus took place and since then it has been held on the first Saturday in September.
In recent years the Cavalry Club has provided funds for the maintenance of the memorial. The Club’s Rule 2.4 is:

“To provide for, and when deemed necessary to expend funds on, the maintenance of the Cavalry Corps Memorial Garden in Plunkett Barracks, Curragh Camp, Co Kildare.”

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

Niemba Peacekeepers Remembered

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in December 2013/January 2014 issue.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos by Sgt Mick Burke

On 8th November 1960, the biggest loss of life of Irish soldiers in any single incident overseas happened in the Belgian Congo. This heartbreaking and significant moment in the history of the Defence Forces took place while these troops were serving as UN peacekeepers with 33 Inf Bn as part of the Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC).

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Erecting the Niemba memorial in the Congo, 1961.

On that fateful day Lt Kevin Gleeson took his 11-man patrol over a bridge on the Luweyeye River near the town of Niemba where Baluba tribesmen ambushed them. After a courageous fight against overwhelming numbers, nine of the patrol were killed. One member of the patrol, 20-year-old Tpr Anthony Browne from Rialto, Dublin, survived the initial attack but was subsequently killed. His body was not found until November 1962. Tpr Browne was also posthumously awarded the first ever An Bonn Míleata Calmachta (Military Medal for Gallantry), the Defence Forces highest military honour, for his conduct during the ambush.

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His citation reads:

“He endeavoured to create an opportunity to allow an injured comrade to escape by firing his Gustaf, thereby drawing attention to his own position, which he must have been aware would endanger his life. He had a reasonable opportunity to escape because he was not wounded but chose to remain with an injured comrade.”

Those that lost their lives were: Lt Kevin Gleeson (30), Sgt Hugh Gaynor (29), Cpl Peter Kelly (25), Cpl Liam Dougan (34), Pte Matthew Farrell (22), Tpr Thomas Fennell (18), Tpr Anthony Browne MMG (20), Pte Michael McGuinn (21) and Pte Gerard Killeen (27).

Two members of the patrol survived, Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick (then 21) and Pte Thomas Kenny (then 24).

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Members of ONE and IUNVA

On 10th November 1960, in a follow-up operation to recover remains, Pte Patrick Davis died after he was shot accidentally. He was laid to rest with his colleagues from the ambush. From 1960 to 1964, 12 Defence Forces units with almost 6,200 troops, served with ONUC. In those four years 26 Irish troops paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of peace.

On Saturday 9th November 2013, the 53rd Niemba Commemoration took place in the Garrison Church, Cathal Brugha Bks, with a Mass at 1200 hrs followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Memorial Garden outside the church.

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Niemba Memorial in Cathal Brugha Bks

The annual ceremony is organised by the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women (ONEt) on the first Saturday in November. The veterans of ONEt and IUNVA provided a guard of honour and the ‘Last Post’ was played by members of the Army No 1 Band. This was followed by a minute’s silence, ‘Reveille’ and then the national anthem as the national flag was raised to full mast.
Wreaths were laid by Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Pat McCartan; Chief of Staff Lt Gen Conor O’Boyle; Secretary General of the DoD Maurice Quinn; ONEt President John Hennessey; the UK Ambassador HE Dominick Chillcot; US Defence Attaché Lt Col Sean Cosden; Dan Garland of IUNVA; Lt Col Joe Aherne (retd) of ARCO; Brig Gen Jerry Enright (retd) of 33 Inf Bn; Comdt Earnan O’Naughton of RACO; Mark Scally of PDFORRA; Comdt Eugene Gargan of RDFRA; Declan Pendred of the Irish Naval Association; Noel Cullen of the Royal British Legion; and Martin Coyne ONEt (on behalf of the American Legion in Ireland). Also present was former Swedish army officer Stig von Bayer who served in the Congo at the time of the ambush.

Even though most of these trailblazing peacekeepers have now retired, their memories of the Congo and places such as Elizabethville, Jadotville and Niemba are still very strong within the Defence Forces as we continue to remember and honour them.

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UN plot at Glasnevin Cemetery

On the previous day, Friday 8th November, members of the IUNVA, with families and friends of troops of 33 Inf Bn, held a ceremony and reception in Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum at the monument and plot for Irish soldiers who died while on service with the UN and for members of Óglaigh na hÉireann, which is where the state funeral for those who died in the Niemba Ambush took place.

After the ceremony the family of Tpr Anthony Browne (MMG) presented his old bull’s-wool uniform to IUNVA for a loan. It will be put on display in IUNVA’s HQ at Arbour Hill.

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UN Veterans Ronnie Daly and Dan Garland with Tpr Browne’s uniform

IUNVA Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony 2014

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As published in An Cosantóir in July/August 2014
Report and photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

IMG_0994 editOn May 25th 2014, the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA) held their 16th annual wreath-laying ceremony in remembrance of all Defence Forces personnel, members of An Garda Síochána and civilian personnel who died on UN peacekeeping missions throughout the world. The ceremony was held at the memorial garden in IUNVA’s HQ on Mount Temple Road, behind Arbour Hill Church and Cemetery, where a memorial stone is inscribed with the names of those who sacrificed everything in the cause of world peace. The garden was opened by President Mary McAleese on November 8th 1998.

IMG_0993 editWhat makes this year special is that it is the 25th anniversary of the formation of IUNVA. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of UNFICYP in April 1964, when 606 members of 40 Inf Bn arrived in Cyprus, and the 50th anniversary of the ending of Irish involvement in the Congo when 2 Inf Gp left ONUC in June of the same year.

The ceremony started at 12am with the parade commander, Sgt Major John Egan (retd), marching the UN veterans into position. Then the MC, Comdt George Kerwin (retd), introduced the IUNVA chairman, Michael Butler, to address all those present.

IMG_0985 editDCOS Sp, Rear-Admiral Mark Mellett DSM, addressed the parade, thanking IUNVA for making sure the memories and names of all those that made the ultimate sacrifice for world peace are remembered. Fr Pat Mernagh CF and the Very Rev John Marsden, Dean of Kildare, led those present in prayers and then Airman Michael Whelan read out his poem ‘Fallen Friends’. The roll of honour was then read out by members of IUNVA posts from around the country.

IMG_0946 editIMG_0948 editWreaths were then laid on behalf of the Defence Forces by Airman Michael Whelan (Air Corps), Pte Tadgh Luby (7 Inf Bn) and A/Sea Michelle Thompson (Dublin Unit, NSR). A wreath was also laid by representatives of other armed forces.

After representatives and families laid their own wreaths a minute’s silence was observed by all before a piper’s lament was played followed by ‘The Last Post’. The National Flag was then raised and the bagpipers were joined by two members of the Army Band in playing the National Anthem.

IMG_0970 editThe day went very well and although it was such a solemn occasion it was very uplifting with everyone enjoying the parade and the opportunity to remember lost loved ones in good company.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

Defence Forces Veterans’ Day Parade 2014

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As published in An Cosantóir in October 2014
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos by Cpl Neville Coughlan

14931744937_81b6d6b6b1_oOn 2nd September 2014 the first Defence Forces Veterans’ Day Parade was held on McDermott Square, DFTC, Curragh Camp. Many veterans from around the country joined under their respective flags. In attendance were the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA), the Organisation of Ex-Servicemen and Women (ONE), along with the Association of Retired Commissioned Officers (ARCO). The Minister for Defence, Mr Simon Coveney TD, officially attended and was accompanied by the Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Conor O’Boyle and Brig Gen Seamus Ó’Giolláin, GOC DFTC.

14931738108_33bd9b436b_oThe Minister in welcoming past servicemen and women confirmed the Defence Forces were committed to our veterans:

“There are many honours and responsibilities associated with service in the Defence Forces. Today I am happy to acknowledge the important service that former servicemen and women have contributed to Irish society in domestic operations and in hostile regions around the world. Today we are recognising the service of all former members of the Defence Forces across all three services, the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps, at home and abroad”.

_EVL2985The Minister complimented the Defence Forces on our 54-years of international peacekeeping:

“The 27th July 1960 was a watershed moment when Ireland sent its first peacekeepers with the 32nd Inf Bn to the Congo, the first complete Irish unit sent overseas as part of a UN mandate. For a further fifty four years the Irish Defence Forces contributed to the cause of peace in places like Lebanon, Chad, Liberia, East Timor and Syria (to name but a few) and continue to do so today”.

The Minister reviewed a parade of the representative associations, and also serving members from the Army, Naval Service and the Air Corps. Following a short multi denominational religious service by Rev Fr John Marsden and Rev Fr PJ Somers CF, and a lament was played by piper CQMS David Usher (Ord Sch), and then the Minister laid a wreath along with the three representative associations to honour our deceased servicemen and women.

15095327196_a472b479b4_oThe Minister finished by paying tribute to the 86 members of the Defence Forces who died on operations at home and abroad in the service of their country, “They paid the ultimate price in the cause of peace”. The day was finished off with light refreshments and displays of current weapons and vehicles and also a display of historical vehicles and weapons brought in by the Irish Military Vehicle Group (IMVG).

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

Fallen Hero Honoured – Pte Gerard Killeen

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As published in An Cosantóir on October 1, 2011
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald with photos by Armn Neville Coughlan

Pte KilleenOn the 30th August 2011, a lecture room in Cathal Brugha Bks was named in honour of a fallen colleague of the staff of the 2nd Eastern Brigade Training Centre (2 E BTC). The Private Killeen Lecture Room, located in ‘B’ block on the main square.

810242 Pte Gerard Killeen joined the Defence Forces in February 1952, after serving 6-years in the 2 Inf Bn, he then transferred to the Command Training Depot East (CTD E, then named 2 E BTC) on his qualifying as a cook, this was following in his father’s footsteps.

PlauqeIn August 1960, Pte Killeen was deployed overseas to the Congo as a Peace-keeper with ‘A’ Coy, 33 Inf Bn. As part of a 706 strong Battalion with the newly founded UN mission ONUC (l’Opération des Nations Uniesau Congo). The Congo was only granted independence on 30th June 1960, after almost a century of Belgian rule. This was the first armed overseas mission undertaken by the Defence Forces since the foundation of the state.

summer 11 xx 002Pte Killeen was killed (along with 8 others) on the 8th November 1960 at a river crossing near the village of Niemba in Katanga, when an eleven-man Irish patrol was ambushed by Baluba tribesmen. This was, and still remains, the greatest loss of life for the Defence Forces in a single incident overseas.

Pte Gerard Killeen was posthumously awarded An Réalt Míleata – The Military Star.

CertThe other members of that fatal patrol were:

Lieutenant Kevin Gleeson – 2 Field Engineer Company
Sergeant Hugh Gaynor – 2 Motor Squadron
Corporal Peter Kelly – 5 Infantry Battalion
Corporal Liam Dougan – 5 Infantry Battalion
Private Matthew Farrell – 2 Hospital Company
Trooper Thomas Fennell – 2 Motor Squadron
Private Michael McGuinn – 2 Field Engineer Company
Trooper Anthony Browne MMG – 2 Motor Squadron

May Gerard’s soul, and all the souls of Defence Forces personnel who died while serving at home and overseas, rest in peace ‘Amen’

summer 11 xx 006The Killeen Room GroupThe Killeen Room Group: Standing Back Row: Sgt Cole, Cpl Mc Guinness, Capt Freely, CQMS Pender, Cpl McDonagh, Sgt Tuite, Coy Sgt Masterson, Sgt Pearse, Lt Ryan, Lt Whelan and Capt Curtis. Sitting Front Row: Coy Sgt John de Lacy (Retd), Mrs Catherine Homan (Wife), Comdt Maureen O’Brien OC 2 E BTC, Mr Gerard Killeen (Son) and Col JJ O’Reilly (EO 2 E Bde)

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

Super-Trooper – Sean Campion (RIP)

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As published in An Cosantóir in February 2015.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

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Sean and Mick in Connolly Hospital

When Mick Hennessy, a former private with 2 Inf Bn, was admitted to Connolly Memorial Hospital, Blanchardstown, he struck up a conversation with his neighbour in the next bed. The other man, Sean Campion (68), then said:

“I have to go shave, as I got used to shaving every day while in the army.”

When Mick told him he had served a few years himself a great camaraderie developed, as it generally does when any two ex-servicemen or women meet up – full of humour and plenty of slagging! Despite a 40-year age difference the two guys got on great and since Mick’s release from hospital he has continued to visit Sean. After hearing the story, staff from An Cosantóir also visited Sean on a few occasions to hear his story and see how he was keeping.

Sean enlisted with 4 Motor Sqn in Plunkett Bks, Curragh Camp, in January 1967; “on a wage of six pounds five shillings,” he recalls. During his time in the DF, Sean completed a Ranger’s course (in 1969 with the late Lt Gen Dermot Early as one of his instructors), experienced the early days of the Troubles, and served in Cyprus with 23 Inf Gp, UNICYP.

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Irish troops being briefed prior to their departure for Cyprus in the 1960s. C/O www.curragh.info

In 1974 Sean emigrated to Australia for £25 pounds (borrowed from his sister), working for a few months in a Dunlop factory, before signing up to serve in the Australian Armoured Corps from 1975-78. “There was a big difference from the Irish Defence Forces,” Sean says, “and even getting used to drill orders in English wasn’t as easy as it sounds.” He was issued with an FN self-loading rifle (SLR), which he kept by his bunk every night, signing out the bolt from the armoury every morning. He was stationed in Puckapunyal (Valley of the Seven Winds), central Victoria and still has his passing out parade on Super 8mm film.

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Two Leopard MBTs cross the Mary River floodplain. Artist: Barry Spicer © www.barryspicer.com

Sean served as a tank gunner/radio operator on the Centurion and also trained on the Leopard, the first German-built tank since WW2. His regimental sergeant major was Gus Ballantyne, a German WW2 veteran who Sean recalls as being “a real hard bastard!”

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2 Cav Sqn renders the drive-past salute to Brig Gen ‘Rinty’ Monaghan (GOC E Comd), as they leave Griffiths Bks for Cathal Brugha Bks on 15th September 1988. Photo: Military Archives.

Returning to Ireland in 1978, he re-enlisted and after a short refresher course was posted to 2 Cav Sqn, Griffith Bks. He served with 48 Inf Bn, UNIFIL, and in 1982 he transferred to the cadre staff of 11 Cav Sqn, Griffith Bks where he served, first in Griffiths Bks and then Cathal Brugha Bks, until he retired in 1993.

Sean was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a few years ago and deteriorating health led to his current stay in hospital where he is recovering from the amputation of the lower half of his right leg. Nevertheless, he is in good spirits, and says he is getting healthier and stronger every day with medication, physiotherapy and great care from the hospital staff . Although wheelchair-bound at present, he is looking forward to receiving a prosthetic limb so he can get walking again.

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Sean keeps himself busy reading and watching movies, and has a large collection of books and DVDs, mostly military related. He takes particular inspiration from the film Reach for the Sky (1956), the true story of Douglas Bader, who overcame the loss of both legs to become a successful fighter pilot in World War II.

During his hospitalisation, Sean has been immensely cheered by visits from members of ONEt, IUNVA, and the IDFVA. He is still warmly remembered by former colleagues and we wish him well on his road to recovery.

For information on diabetes contact: Diabetes Ireland (CHY 6906), 19 Northwood House, Northwood Business Campus, Santry, Dublin 9. Tel: 01 842 8118 or email: info@diabetes.iewww.diabetes.ie

Sadly Trooper Sean (Campo) Campion passed away peacefully in hospital in the early hours of the 9th April 2015. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam – “May his soul be on God’s right side”

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.